Last Edit: Aug. 7, 2017, 1:55 a.m.

I've put together a list of beginners "tools" that everyone should have. Each item is ranked as a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd priority with some good value options listed for sourcing them. Some of the example models I've used and some of them I've just looked at on line, but I believe them all to be at least competent for occasional use. In certain instances you'll see that while I list a value brand as a good value I actually recommend moving to a more mid range or high end brand.


Eye Protection

(priority 1)

Safety squints engage!

But seriously, eye protection is critical if you're using any power tools (including outdoor power equipment - lawn mowers, blowers, weed eaters, etc.). You only have to get something in your eye once to know how much it sucks, but even more importantly you only have to *really* get something in your eye once to lose it. So wear eye protection. It's cheap, it's effective, and it's not a burden at all - you'll actually forget you're wearing it a lot of the time.

Any old cheap z87.1 pair of glasses will do. These are ubiquitous, cheap, and everyone has a version. Buy a pair. Even if you get a nicer version that you will usually use, get one of these cheap pairs as a backup

If you're going to be doing work outside, you can also get a pair of safety sunglasses. I like polarized ones since they reduce glare from non-reflective surfaces. Finding a pair of these is left as an exercise to the reader.

Finally, if you are going to be doing anything which sends chips flying you will want to consider getting a face shield. You can find one at the usual suspects

Ear Protection

(Priority 1)

Your hearing, much like your sight, is something you can't get back once you lose it. So protect it! I recommend getting a simple pair of ear muffs, but ear plugs are also an option. Ear muffs will tend to break in and get more comfortable the more your wear them, but get sweatier than earplugs do.

Muff Example 1 Band offers lots of adjustment, but they are just mediocre otherwise.

[https://www.harborfreight.com/ear-muffs-94334.html|Muff Example 2]] Band is kind of small so they don't fit real well unless you've got a small head. Otherwise ok.

Muff Example 3 Low profile and effective. Band offers plenty of adjustment so they are fairly comfortable.

Muff Example 4 These are super comfortable.

Plug Example 1 These work well. They have the easy on benefit of ear muffs and the low sweat inducing properties of ear plugs. For long sessions, they are not as comfortable as either though.

Hand Protection

(Priority 2)

When you hurt yourself, I would venture to say that 85% of the time it will be on your hands. Cuts and scrapes are going to be the biggest issues. It is worth getting two sets of gloves:

A long-lasting durable mechanics glove. Such as this or this or this

A commodity rubber dipped glove. Like this or this

If you are going to be doing anything with fluids it is also worth getting a pack of disposable medium-weight nitrile gloves in ~5mil thickness.(2x2, hands of blue)


Measurement and detection

(Priority 1)

If you are ever going to have to deal with any electricity (and you will) you're going to have to be able to at least test to make sure you don't get shocked. There are two tools you should really have for this - a multimeter and a non-contact voltage detector. The tool I recommend for this purpose actually combines both into one package.

The Uni-T UT210E is in my opinion the current pinnacle of light duty occasional use home multimeter. It's got non-contact voltage detection, auto-ranging measurements, and since it's a clamp meter you don't have to worry about blowing fuses when checking current. It also does DC current with the clamp which makes it great for automotive troubleshooting too. Finally, it's a reasonable price, doesn't take up much room, and has a case so the leads will stay in good shape and not get lost.

Wire Strippers

(Priority 2)

In a pinch, you can use a pocket knife to get by on wire stripping but a pair of wire strippers will make it much easier. I don't recommend going with the ubiquitous absolute bargain basement set that comes with every tool kit ( like this) because they are too large to get into spaces you need them and they are too dull and poorly constructed to be of any real use.

There are a number of acceptable alternatives which will get the job done. Such as this or this or this.

You can also get a pair like this if you really need to save some space - they will be better than the kind I warned against but take a little more skill to use properly.

Extension Cord

(Priority 1)

You will inevitably need to use an appliance or tool away from an outlet, so get an extension cord. Make sure you get a grounded one (3 prongs) and get at least 14 gauge. The best place to find these is flea markets, otherwise just get the cheapest one in the length and gauge you need. Remember that a lower gauge is a larger wire so you can always go down.

here are a few

Hand Tools


(Priority 1)

You will need to persuade and assemble things. Get a hammer. A 16 oz smooth face claw hammer is probably the best balance of finesse and power for general purpose/occasional diy use. Any lighter and you will have to really swing it. Any heavier and you won't be able to feather it easily. A waffle face sounds like it would give you more grip on what you're hitting, but in general you will care more about not marring the surface than slipping off.

here are some options


(Priority 1)

There are three screwdrivers you need - a #2 phillps, a #1 phillips, and a 1/4" flat blade. There are two schools of thought here - get a set of screwdrivers, or get a driver that takes multiple bits. They both have their pros and cons, and I would actually recommend getting both.

Many of the tools on this list you can cheap out on - don't do it on screwdrivers. Cheap screwdrivers made of low quality metal will end in damaged tips which will in turn strip screws. Once a screw is stripped you are in a bad way, so make sure you go medium grade or higher on your drivers.

Sets - one two three

Bit Drivers - one two

It is also worth getting a set of security bits for odd fasteners, torx drives, larger/smaller phillips drives, etc. No need to go fancy here.

one two three


(Priority 1) Pliers are kind of like screwdrivers in that you need to at least get decent ones. You really need three sets - a pair of needle nose, a pair of channel locks, and a pair of vice grips.

needle nose: one two three

Channel lock: one two three

Vice Grip: one two


Tape Measure
(Priority 1)

Not much to say about tape measures. You'll need to measure something and they are usually the best way to do it. You can go pretty cheap on a tape measure with the only caveat being you should double check the accuracy to a known distance - some of the cheaper ones have been known to be off.

You can get this one for free fairly often.

A classic

One of my favorites - I like the push to retract feature.

(Priority 1)

You should definitely get a small little torpedo level. They are cheap and useful.

one two

A larger level is also useful, but not something you necessarily need to get before you have a need for it.


(Priority 1)

The adjustable or "crescent" wrench. Its value is its versatility. One wrench that can handle 90% of your wrenching needs. Even the cheap ones are usable, though you'll have less chance of slipping with a higher quality model. Length wise you want between 6" and 10".

6: one 8: one two 10: one Multi: one two

Note that a couple of those have a serrated side on the movable jaw which allows them to double as a monkey wrench which can come in handy at times.

End Wrenches
(Priority 2)

There is no doubt about it - a regular end wrench will be better than a crescent wrench 100% of the time. They fit in tight spaces more easily, the box end makes it hard to slip off, and you can gang them together to get more leverage. The big downside compared to sockets and crescent wrenches is that they take up an awful lot of room in comparison. You can also get them with built in ratchet mechanisms which is a really nice feature.

For general purpose use, you'll want a medium quality or better set with an offset box end. You'll also have to get a metric and standard set.

Regular Metric: one

Regular Standard: one

Regular Combo: one

Ratcheting Combo: one

Socket Wrenches
(Priority 1)

The common socket wrench. Their modularity is what makes them so useful. They are also compact. You'll want to get a combo set with metric and standard. The most common sizes are 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2". 3/8" is where you'll get the most done, but getting a 1/4" set is also worth it as they are pretty compact. In general if there is a plastic lever on the back for changing directions, stay away from it - any socket wrench with a lever I've found to be adequate.

3/8": one

1/4": one

3/8 + 1/4 combo: one

Power Tools


(Priority 1)

Get flashlights. You can't have too many flashlights. With the long life of modern LED lights, even cheap flashlights are worth keeping around. Keep one in the kitchen. One in your glove box. One in your tool box. One in your shed. One in your closet. So many places to keep flashlights. You can often get a free one with a coupon at harbor freight, so take advantage of that and stock up so there is always one handy. Beyond disposable flashlights, it is worth having one nice focusable flashlight that you can use to peek around in your attic, crawlspace, or shed. It is also worth having a lantern for when the power goes out and to illuminate a work area so you can have both hands free.

It is not worth getting any light that does not use LEDs. No incandescents. No halogens. Just LEDs.

Good Light
For your good light, you want to be able to focus the beam and to bring it wide for area illumination. The classic example of this is a maglight and it is a fine choice, but there are almost uncountable options available.

There is a lot of personal preference in flashlights, but I prefer a button to turn the light on and off rather than twisting the focusing ring. I also don't like a lot of extra modes - two or three intensities is OK, but I don't have any need for flashing or different colors.

Here are a few recommendations.

Bulk Lights
Not much else to say. You can get them for free. The batteries last quite a while and they are bright enough to be usable.



Hardware & Other

Tool Storage


If you are looking for the best combo kit that will get you 90% of the way to where you need to be, this is the one you want.